The Nebraska Legislature - Unicameral and Nonpartisan
Nebraska, a Midwestern state located on the Great Plains, was once considered part of the Great American Desert. It seems an unlikely spot for one of the great experiments in American democracy. Yet this agriculturally productive state, which has evolved to become a leading ranching and farming state as well as center of industry and commerce concentrated around the cities of Omaha and Lincoln, has the unique distinction in that its state legislature is both unicameral and nonpartisan. Nebraska is the only state in U.S. to have a single-chamber legislative body. It is also the only nonpartisan legislature.
When many people think of Nebraska their impression of the state is likely to be that of a long drive through the state on I-80 with fleeting glimpses of tractors, cornfields and cattle ranches. Nebraska however is also one of the great experiments in unicameralism and nonpartisan government.
Unicameralism refers to the practice of having one parliamentary chamber of legislature. This means that the Nebraska legislature has only one house or chamber rather than a bicameral legislature with two houses or chambers. With only 49 members it is also the smallest state legislature. The members of the unicameral legislature are referred to as senators. The Nebraska State Capitol in the City of Lincoln, Lancaster County is the seat of the unicameral legislature.
The Nebraska State Capitol Building
The current Nebraska State Capitol building, the third since Nebraska became a state, was designed by Bertram G. Goodhue and is unique among the states in its architectural design. The Capitol building took ten years to complete, beginning in 1922 and completed in 1932. It was completely paid for upon its completion. The building was constructed from Indiana limestone and the base consists of a cross within a square, with a 400 foot domed tower with a 19 foot bronze statue, the Golden Sower on top of the dome. It is an imposing structure and a historic landmark in Nebraska. The building is open from Monday to Friday between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.; Saturdays between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. and Sundays between the hours of 1 and 5 p.m. Guided tours are conducted daily except on public holidays.
There are advantages and disadvantages to a unicameral legislature. The advantages include a more efficient lawmaking system because of the simplicity of the legislative process. Laws can be passed much more quickly with only one house to pass through. President Obama might wish that he had only one house of Congress to deal with. It is less expensive to run a unicameral legislature since fewer people are involved, both in terms of state representatives, their staffs and the support infrastructure. This cost savings is one of the principal reasons for the switch to a unicameral system which took place during the Great Depression. Another advantage is that Senators must take more responsibility for their actions because of the small number of people involved. Legislative deadlock is much less likely to happen in a unicameral system.
On the downside, the main disadvantages are that the absence of a second chamber means that it may be easier for flawed legislation to be passed and depending on the allocation of seats, important sectors of society may be neglected.
To summarize, Nebraska is considered a unique state legislature with its unicameral system. Unlike all the other American states, Nebraska does not have a House of Representatives and a Senate, it operates with one legislative body and all its members are senators.